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New Zealand needs to have a serious conversation about the health and social impacts of cannabis in light of a recent survey which found conflicting views about how we should treat people who use the drug.

The survey, conducted by Research New Zealand on behalf of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, found 58 percent of New Zealanders were in favour of retaining cannabis possession as a criminal offence, but 74 percent of people were in favour of providing health education and support to young people caught with cannabis at school rather than suspending or expelling them.

New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said the findings show the need to have a serious conversation about cannabis to resolve the conflicting views about how we treat people who use the drug.

“On the one hand we have people saying that possession of cannabis should be treated as a criminal issue and on the other we have people saying we need to provide help and support,” Mr Bell said.

“This week we’re kicking this conversation off at an international symposium on cannabis and health. We’re known as a country with one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, especially among young New Zealanders. Now is the time to talk about what things we should be doing to change this, because clearly the status quo is not working.”

“A new approach is needed, one that recognises the growing science about the health harms of cannabis and also the evidence from around the world about more effective and earlier interventions that directly address these.”

The Drug Foundation is hosting the International drug policy symposium on cannabis health in Auckland this week, which brings together some of the sharpest minds from academia, the treatment sector, community groups and policy makers to share the current science on cannabis harms and lessons on how to reduce those. The only other cannabis and health conference in New Zealand was held 20 years ago, also hosted by the Drug Foundation.

What: 2013 International Drug Policy Symposium. Through the maze: Cannabis and Health
Where: Rendezvous Hotel, 71 Mayoral Drive, Auckland
When: 27–29 November, 2013
Info: www.drugfoundation.org.nz/cannabis-and-health

Cannabis facts

  • 46.4 percent of New Zealanders aged 16–64 have used cannabis at least once.
  • 60.3 percent of New Zealanders aged between 25–35 have used cannabis at least once.
  • 2006 research suggests that by age 25 almost 80% of New Zealanders will have used cannabis.
  • 17: the median age New Zealanders first try cannabis.
  • One in seven New Zealanders aged 16–64 have used cannabis in the last year.
  • 1.9 percent of New Zealanders use cannabis daily.
  • There were 5,981 Police apprehensions for possession of cannabis. This represents 83.65% of all Police apprehensions for possession of an illicit drug.
  • Apprehensions for possession or use of cannabis represented 84.16% of all Police apprehensions for possession or use of an illicit drug.
  • Low-level cannabis offences (possession/use/utensil) represented 52% of all Police apprehensions for any illicit drug offence.

Survey results

Q1. Currently, possession of even a small amount of cannabis is against the law. If cannabis possession was decriminalised, people caught with a small amount of cannabis would not receive a criminal conviction. Do you support decriminalisation of the possession of a small amount of cannabis, or do you feel the law should stay as it is?

 TotalMaleFemale
Base =506190316
 %%%
Yes, I support the decriminalisation of the possession of a small amount of cannabis 33 34 33
No, the law should stay as it is/I do not support decriminalisation585659
Don't know 9 10 7
Refused 0 0 1
Total 100 100 100

Q2. Currently, young people in possession of cannabis at school may be suspended or expelled. Do you agree or disagree that it would be better to provide them with health education and support?

 TotalMaleFemale
Base =506190316
  %%%
Strongly disagree 7 6 8
Disagree 8 9 7
Neither agree nor disagree 7 5 8
Agree 35 38 33
Agree 39 38 40
Don't know 3 3 3
Refused 1 1 1
Total 100 100 100

The base numbers shown are unweighted counts.

Total may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Methodology

Interviewing for the survey took place between 9 and 21 November 2013 as part of Research New Zealand’s monthly omnibus survey, and is based on a nationally representative sample of n=506 adult New Zealanders, 18 years of age and over.

The data has been weighted by ethnicity and gender to ensure that the total sample results are truly representative of the New Zealand population. The weighting parameters were sourced from Statistics New Zealand and are based on the 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings.

Results based on the (weighted) total sample are subject to a maximum margin of error of +/- 4.6 percent (at the 95 percent confidence level). This means, for example, that had we found 50 percent of respondents supported the decriminalisation of cannabis, we could be 95 percent sure of getting the same result, plus or minus 4.6 percent, had we interviewed everyone in the population. Higher margins of error apply in the case of sub-samples.

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